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Immigrants, Jobs and the Recession

The recession has been hard on almost everyone, but a report released today by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute found immigrants suffered higher job losses between 2007 and 2009 in health care, construction, information technology and hospitality. Construction jobs, which previously employed a huge number of Latino men and other immigrants, were hit hardest by the recession.

News wasn’t all bad for immigrants — the study found the largest job growth for foreign-born workers since 2000 was in middle-skilled jobs, which allow for higher pay and more opportunities for upward mobility. Less educated immigrants may have trouble entering sectors that require them to speak English, such as health care, hospitality and information technology. This means construction jobs were particularly important for new immigrants and those who could not speak English.

Health care, construction, information technology and hospitality were studied because they employ about 40 percent of foreign-born workers and 30 percent of the overall workforce. In all four, immigrants suffered lower job growth or higher job loss than native-born workers.

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The study’s findings counter some arguments against the family-based visa system, which doles out more visas based on relatives in the U.S. than it does based on strategic employment interests. Proponents of a visa overhaul argue the system should be changed to ensure immigrants with specific skill sets are entering the country to help grow certain industries, but the report found immigrants are filling jobs in middle-skill sectors even though visas are not set aside for them.

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